Monday, June 24, 2013

"Just One More Detail":
American Surveillance And The Unanswered Question of Israel

In my previous post, I looked at the campaign of personal denigration against NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, with a special focus on Lawrence O'Donnell's June 12th interview with Mavanee Anderson (video, transcript), Snowden's friend from his time in Geneva. I emphasized the particularly bizarre segment where O'Donnell tries to paint Snowden in the colors of Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden all at once, by showing, and quizzing his guest on, an excerpt of Paul speaking at a Republican presidential debate. As I indicated, Mavanee Anderson did not take O'Donnell's bait, and refused to participate in any speculative mind-reading of Snowden, but O'Donnell couldn't resist pressing further:
There was "just one more detail" of this interview that we should mention. As if Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden weren't desperate enough ploys, O'Donnell goes yet another bridge too far, and pops a question that seems to have come from Mars:

O'Donnell: And just one more detail of that kind. Anything about Israel? Ron Paul, for example wants to end all aid to Israel? Was that something that Ed Snowden thought about very much?

Anderson: Sorry, I wouldn't -- again, that's not something I would know.

Anything about Israel? Where the hell did that come from?
With this question, O'Donnell was probably trying to elicit some indication that Snowden is critical of Israel, on the assumption -- I think, and hope, incorrect -- that any such attitude would render Snowden persona non grata for O'Donnell's audience.  It was a ploy that, again, did not work with Mavanee. It did, however, inadvertently, open the door.

Now that you ask, Lawrence: Yes, Israel is in fact quite relevant to the NSA surveillance story, and you are to be commended for leading us where, despite all the furious discussion and debate, no one in the media universe has gone before.

What is (surprise, surprise) hardly ever talked about in all the discussion of the NSA surveillance regime is the curious fact that Israeli companies, linked to Israeli intelligence services, helped to run the NSA spying operation, that they provided some of the most widely-used monitoring devices, and that, along the way, "a very strong supporter of Israel" working inside the NSA gave Israel the crucial data-mining software developed by the Agency,

You know, a bunch of little things like that, which add up to actual espionage (spying for another country) that was shrugged off as no big deal, and the fact that Americans were, and are, with the tacit connivance of the NSA, likely being surveilled by the Israeli government as well as their own -- stuff which is hardly worth mentioning and surely not worth spending any precious American media or congressional time talking about.  For the most part, the authoritative "mediating institutions of civil society" that David Brooks drools over, would never be so immature, so gauche, as to bring any of this up, to open that closet door.

Fortunately, there has been some significant investigative reporting that indicates a lot of what is behind that red, white, and blue and white door.  One excellent national security reporter, James Bamford, who has written four books on the NSA and the national security state has a must-read article in Wired last year that summarizes Israel's implantation in the heart of the American surveillance regime.

Bamford exposes how "secretive contractors with questionable histories and little oversight were ... used to do the actual bugging of the entire U.S. telecommunications network." This includes two companies that "have had extensive ties to Israel, as well as links to that country’s intelligence service," which, as Bamford notes, has "a long and aggressive history of spying on the U.S."

One of these companies is Verint, a subsidiary of Comverse Technology, which was "founded by in Israel by Israelis, including ... a former Israeli intelligence officer." Indeed, Bamford says that the former commander of Unit 8200, "Israel’s NSA," boasts of that Unit's  influence on Comverse and Verint, "as well as other Israeli companies that dominate the U.S. eavesdropping and surveillance market."  Verint boasts that its systems can "access communications on virtually any type of network, retain communication data for as long as required, and query and deliver content and data," and can “manage vast numbers of targets, concurrent sessions, call data records, and communications.” According to Bamford, it's Verint that "taps the communication lines at Verizon."

The other company is Narus, founded in Israel in 1997, with partners who, as Bamford points out, "have done technology work for Israeli intelligence." Narus, now owned by Boeing, provides the NSA with crucial supercomputing devices, like the "Semantic Traffic Analyzer."  One commenter, citing Narus documents, specifies that its capabilities "include playback of streaming media (for example, VoIP), rendering of Web pages, examination of e-mails and the ability to analyze the payload/attachments of e-mail or file transfer protocols." He calls it, "Tivo for the internet."  As of 2006, each Narus device was able to monitor capture and replay about 40,000 users' activity in real time.

Narus devices have become the essential tools of "big data" government surveillance. According to Bamford, wiretapping at AT&T is "powered by" Narus, and al-Jazeera reports that a Narus system was used by the Mubarak government in Egypt to surveil and disrupt anti-government protestors. In a sworn declaration, William Binney cites the capacity of the Narus devices as evidence "that the NSA is not filtering personal electronic communications such as email before storage but is, in fact, storing all that they are collecting. ... The capacity ... is consistent, as a mathematical matter, with seizing both the routing information and the contents of all electronic communications."

Bamford's exposé was echoed in the Israeli paper, Haaretz, with the sub-head: "Israeli high-tech firms Verint and Narus have had connections with U.S. companies and Israeli intelligence in the past, and ties between the countries' intelligence agencies remain strong."

So Israeli companies with roots in Israeli intelligence provide the backbone devices for collecting mass amounts of data in the dragnet surveillance system used against a "vast numbers of targets," including American citizens. Still, sorting, classifying, and analyzing that "big data" -- a Semantic Traffic Cop. if you will -- is the key element that makes that data usable, and it was William Binney and his American team inside the NSA that developed the algorithms and software (originally called Thin Thread) to do that effectively.

It was that "advanced analytical and data mining software," as Bamford recounts, that was: "secretly passed to Israel by a mid-level employee, apparently with close connections to the country. The employee, a technical director in the Operations Directorate, 'who was a very strong supporter of Israel,' said Binney, 'gave, unbeknownst to us, he gave the software that we had, doing these fast rates, to the Israelis.'”  When Binney discovered that espionage, it was decided within the NSA not just to ignore, but to ratify it, and to ask Israel for "access to communications terminals" in return.

I wonder why the very "strong supporter of Israel," who certainly broke the sacred law by passing the actual NSA operating software to a foreign government, is not prosecuted under the Espionage Act in the way that senior American NSA agents, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden (and maybe Glenn Greenwald) -- none of whom did any such thing -- have been and will be. I'm wondering why the reaction to this actual espionage within America's most secret intelligence agency was "Oh, what the hell, let 'em have it." I wonder when the American Congress and the American media (including Lawrence "Anything about Israel?" O'Donnell) will investigate, or say peep one, about any of this. Am I the only American citizen who finds these discrepancies out-efffing-rageous?

Then again, how many Americans have been given any information about this at all? And how outrageous is that?

In the Beginning

The Israeli implication in all this goes back to at least to 2001. In the beginning, before the internet was a commonplace means of communication and before every facet of our lives was digital, Amdocs, another Israeli company, had contracts to do the billing for the 25 biggest phone companies in America. That seemingly innocuous task meant Amdocs was collecting "virtually all call records and billing in the U.S," and it was "virtually impossible to make a call on normal phones without generating an Amdocs record of it."

That would be the "metadata" we talk about today. Even in the relatively rudimentary form of the landline telephone records of the day, those records could provide substantial information, and, indeed, American intelligence agencies seemed to understood that having a foreign government in possession and in control of all that information carried an enormous potential for abuse. One briefing document summarized it pithily: "The U.S. relies too much on foreign companies like Amdocs for high-tech equipment and software."

In fact, the FBI and other agencies investigated Amdocs "more than once" and counterintelligence analysts said that the Amdocs system "could also be used to spy through the phone system." The NSA itself issued a Top Secret report "warning that records of calls in the United States were getting into foreign hands ­ in Israel, in particular," and held "numerous classified conferences to warn the F.B.I. and C.I.A. how Amdocs records could be used."

Comverse, the parent company of Verint (as mentioned above), also played a crucial role in the American surveillance infrastructure of the day, and that role was also of concern to American counterintelligence agencies. Comverse, it seems, provided the crucial wiretapping equipment for American law enforcement.  This equipment -- sound familiar? -- "tied into the telephone network to intercept, record and store the wiretapped calls."  American agencies worried that "the wiretap computer programs made by Comverse have, in effect, a back door through which wiretaps themselves can be intercepted by unauthorized parties."

It was reported that "Comverse works closely with the Israeli government, and under special programs, gets reimbursed for up to 50 percent of its research and development costs by the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade," and it was also reported that 140 Israeli individuals -- many with intelligence expertise who worked for Amdocs or other Israeli companies specializing in surveillance -- were arrested and detained in 2001-2 as part of what government documents described as "an organized intelligence gathering operation" that attempted to "penetrate government facilities." So it didn't require rocket science to figure out who those "unauthorized parties" might be working for.  What it would have taken was a government of the United States that did not subordinate its interests to those of Israel. The actual situation was that "investigators within the DEA, INS and FBI have all [said] that to pursue or even suggest Israeli spying through Comverse is considered career suicide."

Plus ça change.

The quotes above regarding the 2001-2 period are from a famous multi-part Fox News report by Carl Cameron from December 2001. For some reason that's just impossible to imagine, that report has been disappeared from the Fox site and archives, but the transcript and video have been preserved elsewhere on the net.

Israeli companies at the heart of surveillance of Americans for at least the last twelve years? Israeli equipment at the heart of surveillance of Americans within America's most secret spy agency now?  An NSA operative passing to Israel the agency's most powerful secret software? The strong possibility that Israel gets to read your emails, too? Media reporting about this ignored and suppressed?

 Anything about Israel?

Yes, Lawrence, ask that question. Ask it seriously about Israel's role in the American surveillance state. Ask it to someone you invite on your show who knows this history and is willing to explain it for your viewers, and to whom you'll give that twenty minutes you gave yourself to extract some trash from Edward Snowden's old friend. And then maybe ask some American government officials, or some media executives, to explain why all the discrepancies, all the impunities, all the silence.

Or is it:  Oops, no, not what I meant. Nothing to see here. Move along.  Let's get back to the important stuff:  That nasty law-breaker Edward Snowden's fuzzy-land, college-free immaturity, and his pole-dancing girlfriend. Besides, it would be "career suicide" to bring these questions up.

Never mind. When it comes to questions about Israel, I think we all know the answer.

Update (6/28/2013): Removed duplicate paragraph referencing Haaretz article.

See previous related posts: 
Edward Snowden, Lawrence O'Donnell, and the Failure of Fuzzy Land Thinking
"No matter what the law actually says”: The Snowden Revelations and the Eternal Surveillance State
The Social Network, NSA Version:"They took those programs that I built and turned them on you"

1 comment:

  1. We were sold a LLLOOOOOONG..... time ago... They used the money WE gave them to buy us...... How does it feel to buy your own slavery?


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